Can Law Enforcement Go Too Far When Collecting DNA Samples?


A dead baby was found abanonded in a knapsack in the woods in 2000 in Fayette County, Penn. As police tell it, the dozen or so girls questioned were perfectly willing to allow a trooper to take a saliva swab from their mouths so a lab could trace the DNA. Sarah S. Hawk, a 25-year-old woman from the area, was found by that process of elimination. Her DNA was obtained by a search warrant after one of her sisters voluntarily gave a swab this spring. When the lab identified the sister’s DNA as belonging to a relative of the baby, police got search warrants so that they could get swabs from the other sisters. Miss Hawk’s came back a match, and she later confessed.

Case closed? Probably, say legal scholars. But the wider question about how much the government can gather — and possibly retain — in the course of solving a crime is far from settled, reports the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “It’s emblematic of the problem. We think science is going to be the solution to all our problems,” said Tim Sparapani, senior legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union. He worries that a growing reliance on DNA screens, and law enforcement’s growing desire to bank such data, could undermine privacy and skew law enforcement.


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